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Seeing Red

Written by Kathryn Erskine

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After his father dies, Red, a twelve-year-old boy is tries to find a way to get his mother to let the family stay in Stony Gap and run his father’s auto shop. Of course, his motivation goes beyond the business itself. This is the only place Red has ever known and all of his friends are here, as is his great grandfather’s desk with his very own name carved on it.

Woven throughout this coming-of-age story is the story of America’s coming of age through civil rights. Red becomes embroiled with the wrong gang and finds himself stuck gagged and bound watching his friend of a different race beaten and nearly lynched. Red cannot believe that the separation between the races is still a problem in the 70’s.

He learns a lot about himself, his family and his country while learning to become his own man. Book clubs, fifth grade reading classes and older classes studying the Civil Right movements will find this a spellbinding read.

Teachers and librarians, as well as parents, can use this as an excellent read aloud to lead to discussions about tracing family trees and maybe not liking everything found in that past. Ideas like courage, truthfulness, honor and knowledge will be topics of conversation involving this story, individual families and contemporary life. Readers might give thought to what they would be willing to do in standing up for friends and/or strangers of other races.

Literacy skills strengthened throughout this text include, but are not limited to: inferential details, comprehension, main idea, supporting details, plot development, character development, dialogue and setting.

This book could also be used successfully for a readers’ theater by appointing a different reader for each speaking part within a chapter.

  • Seeing RedTitle: Seeing Red
  • Author: Kathryn Erskine
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 344 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-46440-6
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death and a Boy Called Eel

Written by Deborah Hopkinson

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Eel is an orphaned boy on the streets of London with a precious secret to keep and a vile-tempered criminal stepfather searching for him. He sleeping under bridges and works as a “mudlark,” foraging what he can out of the filthy Thames River to sell.

In August of 1854, Mr. Griggs, a local tailor who treats Eel kindly and lets him do odd jobs for pence, gets ill suddenly. Only days later, he becomes more ill, turning his face and lips a blue hue just before he dies. Neighbors know it is the cholera, known as blue death, that has come to the hot, humid city. Most people of the time period believe that sickness is caused by the bad air.

Not Dr. John Snow (a real physician), he believes the deadly disease is carried in the water. He gets Eel to help him interrogate the neighbors who have lost family members, draw maps of the city and try to convince the town leaders to disable one centrally located water pump before the whole city dies.

The story is filled with intrigue, excitement and the scientific method put to work. Eel and his friends are instrumental in solving the life threatening riddle.

Literacy skills required to enjoy this novel are cause and effect, parts to whole relationships, main ideas with supporting details and separating fact from fiction. This book will work well for science book clubs as well as history and English classes. Librarians will want to include it in middle grade book clubs to discuss how science had to deal with myths and legends to help people realize that some illnesses were within their power to avoid and contain.

Extras: Endpages contain the timeline of the Broad Street Cholera Epidemic, Author’s Note, Related Reading Resources

  • Great TroubleTitle: The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death and a Boy Called Eel
  • Author: Deborah Hopkinson
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 249 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-375-84818-6
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

The Other Side of Free

Written by Krista Russell

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The year is 1739, the location northern Florida near the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. Thirteen- year-old fugitive slave Jem has just arrived from Charles Town in the Carolinas with Phaedra, a feisty black runaway woman, who has been “paid” by Jem’s caregiver, conjure woman Aunt Winnie, to escort Jem to Florida and look after him.
Why would Jem and Phaedra want to go to Florida?  Florida was controlled by the Spanish government. Spain had offered freedom to English colonial slaves if they fled the British colonies, swore to assist the Spanish in defeating the British, and converted to Catholicism. A group of fugitives lived at Fort Mose, just outside the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. About the same time, a slave uprising occurred along the Stono River near the Florida-Georgia border. The British colonists slaughtered or sold many rebels.

Krista Russell, according to her website, writes “stories of adventure that bring history to life.” She has succeeded in this case. Once Jem and Phaedra arrive at Fort Mose, the adventures begin: rescuing an owl, meeting the trader Reynard, learning to fish and hunt the Indian way from Domingo, arrival of other fugitives, encounters in the forest, threats from the British, scarce supplies, preparing for battle, and the battle.
The story line drags a bit at the beginning, but reaches a flashpoint and firepower speed when Jem spies several British soldiers, and British ships blockade the St. Augustine harbor. All the fugitives gather in the Castillo for safety, but supplies are low. Jem learns about what the British have done to Fort Mose. Consequently, the Spanish authorities develop a plan to defeat the British soldiers at Fort Mose based on Jem’s reports.

The characters are many and diverse, each having his own story to enrich the general narrative. Jem is an immature and naïve thirteen, resentful of strong willed Phaedra and missing Aunt Winnie. Jem’s and Phaedra’s strong stubborn wills clash. Phaedra’s history remains a mystery until the final chapters. Reynard, the trader, adds the historical details about the importance of trading with the Indians and the British and American colonists, not only providing goods but also news. Big Sunday is the leader of the slaves and connection to the Native Americans via his son Domingo and connection to the Spanish governor and general who live in St. Augustine. General Rooster is what the slaves have nicknamed General Rojas who trains the fugitives to help fight off the British. Shadrack is the old conjure man who is the fort charcoal maker.

Interspersed throughout is the owl, Omen, that Jem rescues from his nest when he observes crows attacking the owlet. Phaedra dislikes and resents the owlet and the time Jem  spends feeding it, mending it, teaching it how to fly, and, finally, hunting for itself. However, Omen teaches Jem about the forest and the ways of the forest that help Jem provide information during the siege

Several strands of the narrative seem extraneous.  While Jem thinks about his Aunt Winnie, he remembers her stories, the stories of trickster Brer Rabbit and tells them to Omen. General Rojas propositions Phaedra, who rebuffs him. Why is that short episode needed in a story for middle grade readers?  Could other descriptions, examples, information have been used to establish the personalities of Rojas and Phaedra? Neither does the element of conjuring, while providing additional richness to the African-American culture, seem to be necessary to the forward movement of the general thesis.

Few books have been written for upper elementary/middle school readers about this period and location in America history. Most emphasis has been on the British colonies and the use of slaves on the southern plantations. Historians now consider the Fort Mose site and the flight of the slaves from the Carolinas and Georgia as the precursor of the Underground Railroad that took many slaves to safety in the north or to Canada. Russell’s previous book Chasing the Nightbird was a NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People in 2012; Other Side of Free will probably also be included in that honor listing.

Extras: Author website kristarussell.com
Fort Mose Historic State Park: www.floridastateparks.org/fortmose
Castillo De San Marcos:  www.nps.gov/casa/index.htm;
Stono River Slave Rebellion Site: www.discoversouthcarolina.com/products/3566.aspx

  • Other Side of FreeTitle: The Other Side of Free
  • Author: Krista Russell
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2013
  • Reviewer: Marion Mueller
  • Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-710-6
  • Reading level: 4.9

Prettiest Doll

Written by Gina Willner-Pardo

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A coming-of age story and a story of self-acceptance and acceptance of the world are all packed into this novel. Teens and preteens will appreciate its ease of comprehension.

Liv, Olivia Jean to her Mom, has grown up in the world of beauty pageants. She entered her first pageant when she was three years old. She is thirteen now, a ten-year veteran of the pageant universe, and tired already of its incessant demands and restrictions. This is not how she wants to spend her life.:

 

Then I stared at the mirror some more. It was the weirdest thing. I wasn’t there. I had disappeared. Suddenly I couldn’t catch my breath. It was like being underwater or buried in the ground, the feeling I had — that I was invisible, that I could scream and no one would hear.

 

She recognizes her mother’s struggles, but does not want to live her mother’s dreams. Into this world comes Danny, a seventeen year old who looks like he is ten. Danny’s mother also has dreams for her son’s life, whether he shares those dreams or not. He leaves home, hoping to make his way in the world.

Liv sees that as a way to escape her mother’s demands. She leaves a note for her mother and joins Danny on his journey. But running away is not the only answer. What the two learn about the world, and about their own strengths and capabilities is what gives this book its depth.  Sure to bolster the reading skills of young readers.

Additional information:

Author Bio: http://ginawillnerpardo.com/bio.shtml

  • Prettiest DollTitle: Prettiest Doll
  • Author: Gina Willner-Pardo
  • Publisher: Clarion Books, 2012
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback:  240 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-68170-2
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 680

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War

Written by Helen Frost

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This novel in verse, written by the Printz Honor Book author, Helen Frost, once again brings a story to life by her use of the two voices of teens.

One is the son of a settler living just outside the fort and running the trading post. The other is the son of a Native Miami tribe living just miles away. The story is set in 1812 during the westward expansion.

She uses Salt to weave the story together in many beautiful ways. As salt comes from the earth and is needed by animals, Native Americans and settlers alike.

The two young boys are friends, until miscommunication causes them to doubt one another’s intentions. It is skillfully written to allow the reader to discover how easily miscommunications can come about and cause a serious rift in a friendship or an escalation in war.

Fifth grade readers plus older readers will enjoy this story and it would lend itself well to a reader’s theater in English, History or Social Studies classes. There are many areas of the common core that this book will fulfill and enhance. Literacy skills included, besides others, are inferential details, parts to whole, comprehension and cause and effect.

It would also provide for some strong writing activities dealing with; which side would you be on? What parallels to this do we see in today’s world? How can some people see so clearly what others cannot?

For a more contemporary experience with the novel in verse using two voices, see Hidden by this same author.

  • SaltTitle: Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War
  • Author: Helen Frost
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 129 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-374-36387-1
  • Genre: Historical Fiction in Verse

Navigating Early

Written by Clare Vanderpool

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When Jackie’s mother dies unexpectedly, the father he barely knows comes from active Navy duty to take him from Kansas to a boarding school in Maine. Not surprisingly, he has a difficult time adjusting and befriends a most unlikely student. They both have the pain of loss in their backgrounds and the love of adventure in their veins.

This Newberry winning author of Moon Over Manifest, has put together another exciting adventure that fifth grade readers as well as sixth and seventh grade readers will enjoy whether they are male or female.

She uses the boys’ knowledge of the outdoors and particularly of the stars to guide them along their way. While one boy shows signs of being autistic, it is an underlying awareness that comes to the reader, and not an, in your face description. He sees things differently, but he is still understandable to the others around him once they stop and consider what he is saying. It provides a good lesson for us all to stop and seriously consider what people are actually saying when they are talking to us.

Literacy skills enhanced by this book include: comprehension, cause and effect, setting, character development and plot. As a read aloud, it could be effective when studying about autism, the outdoors, dealing with death and separating fact from fiction.

Even though this is a fiction book, Clare has done a great deal of research to make sure the setting, and time period are correct. It is told with a great deal of action and excitement that are sure to keep the reader turning pages late into the night.

  • Navigating EarlyTitle: Navigating Early
  • Author: Clare Vanderpool
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 300 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-385-74209-2
  • Genre: Fiction, Adventure
  • Lexile: 790

Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers

Written by Brandon Marie Miller

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It’s unusual for such a heavily researched and annotated work as this to be so exciting. The author chose the stories of women with a lot to tell, and she makes the reader care. The author also categorizes stories that defy category.

Not surprisingly, the stories begin with the trek west. The reader learns about Margaret Reed, a member and survivor of the ill-fated Donner party. The ordeal is real without being overly graphic. Amelia Stewart Knight was another early settler who faced unbelievable hardship – along the Oregon Trail. The next three women – Narcissa Whitman, Miriam Davis Colt, and Frances Grummond – faced unusual challenges establishing households on the frontier. Narcissa set out to be a missionary to Native Americans in Oregon. She was killed without converting a single “heathen.” Miriam wrote a book about her failed colony in Kansas. Frances married an army office and found new meanings for isolation and deprivation.

Many women in the West learned to make their own way. Luzena Stanley Wilson went west with the Gold Rush and made a living feeding or housing the men. Clara Brown was a laundress/entrepreneur/philanthropist. Bethenia Owens-Adair was a healer and physician.

Not everyone spent all their time with mere survival. Martha Dartt Maxwell became a taxidermist and introduced western animals to the East. Charlotte “Lotta” Crabtree was a baby-faced, famous singer.

Many women considered the future of the West. Mary Elizabeth Lease immersed herself in the populist movement. Carry Nation fought for temperance and women’s suffrage.

In the category of culture clash, Rachel Parker Plummer and Cynthia Ann Parker are examples of white women held captive by Native Americans. Sarah Winnemucca and Susette La Flesche were Native Americans who fought for their native people.

This work is great as a referential beginning point for a fifth grade unit of the American West or Native Americans. Many of these women wrote about their lives, so reading activities naturally flow into learning more about them and the topics they wrote about. The author includes a table of contents, notes, resources, an index, and numerous photos.

  • Women of the FrontierTITLE: Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers
  • AUTHOR: Brandon Marie Miller
  • PUBLISHER: Chicago Review Press
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • EDITION: 2013
  • ISBN: 978-1-883052-97-3
  • GENRE: Hard cover, Women, American West, History
  • LEXILE: NA

 

Apache Chief Geronimo

Written by William R. Sanford

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They called the young warrior “Geronimo.” He would become known for his relentless raids, his numerous escapes from capture, and his resistance to white settler intrusion during westward expansion.

Part of the “Native American Chiefs and Warriors” series, this book examines the life of the legendary Apache Chief Geronimo. Born Go Khla Yeh (One Who Yawns), he grew up in the harsh desert lands of the southwest and belonged to a band of Apaches called the Bedonkohe, known for their hunting and survival skills. They continually battled against the Mexicans, and it was, in fact, Mexican soldiers that bestowed him the nickname “Geronimo.”

Tragedy would strike early in his life when a massacre killed his wife and young children. He vowed to seek revenge for their deaths and gained a reputation as a fierce warrior. Sometimes he would be captured, but he knew how to escape. He was a wanted man, spending most of his life on the run. When Geronimo’s people were forced onto reservations in different parts of the country, he fought for their return to their homeland. It was only after his death in 1909 when some Apache could finally go back to the southwest.

This book would be a great addition to a classroom library or media center, especially for fifth grade students studying biographies or Native American history. Sanford uses Geronimo’s own words and other written accounts to create authenticity. Archival photographs, illustrations, and maps support text complexity while adding interest to the straightforward narrative. Short chapters with simple sentence structures make this book accessible to all fifth grade readers, including reluctant ones. The glossary, index, and extra reading/web resources could also be used for literacy activities. More titles in this series can be found on the publisher’s website: www.enslow.com.

  • GeronimoTitle: Apache Chief Geronimo
  • Author: William R. Sanford
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Paperback, 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4644-0253-1
  • Genre: Non-Fiction / Biography / History
  • Lexile: 570

Hero on a Bicycle

Written by Shirley Hughes

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Thirteen year old Paolo is the hero on a bicycle, but the book is not just about him. The setting is the city of Florence, Italy (1943-1944), but the scope of the story is of life in war-torn Europe and the daily heroism of people trying to maintain a semblance of normality in very difficult times.

Rosemary is a Britisher married to Florentine Franco Crivelli, whose anti-Fascist leanings make it dangerous for him to stay at home. He disappears, nobody knows where. Rosemary is left to manage life in Nazi-occupied Florence: the daily food supplies, the sense of danger around every street corner, and the frustrations of her increasingly isolated teenagers.

Paolo is restless. Constanza is caught in a double bind: she knows Paolo rides out every night, understands his need for that freedom, and will not snitch to their mom. However, she has her own longings which she cannot share because Mom’s burden is heavy enough. Her outlet is playing old records over and over again. Rosemary, aware of their thoughts “reflected grimly on the old cliché that wartime, when not terrifying, was a combination of long stretches of boredom and grinding hardship.”

Into this mix is thrown the Partisan fervor and the foreboding German presence. The author says in an interview (http://www.heroonabicycle.co.uk/p/plot.html) that it is a “straightforward thriller”, but to today’s reader it is not just a thriller, but also a story about the essential goodness of all people. Rosemary performs dangerous work with the Partisans to give shelter to Allied soldiers. Helmut Grass, the German officer discovers that the Crivelli family is hiding an escaped Allied prisoner of war (he finds a part of a cigarette pack which shows the words Lucky Strike, an American brand), but does not disclose that information to his commanding officer. Constanza thinks, “It was difficult to think of him as The Enemy, someone against whom she and her family were about to pit all their courage and humanity.”  Hilaria’s family benefits from their Fascist sympathies, but she warns her friend Constanza that Rosemary was on some kind of Gestapo list. Il Volpe, the Partisan leader, stops for a brief moment to acknowledge Paolo’s presence, even as he escaping from the German firing squad. In big ways and small, people demonstrate their basic humanity.

Teachers and librarians should start with the “thriller” element of the story, and then create reading activities and discussions about that bygone era. There is much that can be learned from the book.

  • HeroTitle: Hero on a Bicycle
  • Author: Shirley Hughes
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback:   213 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6037-6
  • Genre: Novel

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

Written by Steve Sheinkin

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This true crime thriller will amaze fifth grade readers interested in American history. It tells about the conspirators as they plan how to steal Lincoln’s body out from under the Lincoln monument in Springfield, Illinois, as well as when and why they would even try such a thing.

On the other side of the story are the Secret Service agents following their trail but wanting to catch them in the act rather than just prevent the theft. They have placed an undercover double agent in the middle of the works that causes the tension to rise as readers expect him to get caught many different times.

These are the very earliest days of the Secret Service and readers will be interested to read how much of their decision making in catching criminals was left up to each individual detective.

Beside the main crime at hand, these conspirators are also involved with counterfeiting plates of American currency. When one of their main leaders gets sent to prison the rest first try to think of a way to get him out; then devise a plan for keeping up the counterfeiting ring without him.

As a diversion, they plan the theft for election night of 1876 to be sure all the neighbors are off the roads and in town.

Several different literacy skills can be strengthened by use of this book including, reading for details, sequencing, comprehension, vocabulary, context clues, plot and cause and effect.

Boys and girls in the third grade and beyond would benefit from having this book read aloud or assigned in a book club setting where it can be discussed and enjoyed with others.

The story is smoothly written and moves the plot along at a brisk pace keeping young readers interested. It contains several photographs from the time as well as diagrams of the Lincoln Monument and maps of the surrounding grounds to help readers get drawn into the tale.

Author information: This book is written by the same author that wrote the nonfiction Newberry Honor Book, BOMB. BOMB also received the 2013 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal.  http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/sibertmedal

Extras: Glossary, Source Notes, Index, Authenic Photos from the Library of Congress and the Lincoln Monument Site, maps of the site and diagrams of the Lincoln Monument in Springfield, Illinois.

  • Grave RobbersTitle: Lincoln’s Grave Robbers
  • Author:  Steve Sheinkin
  • Publisher: Scholastic, NY, January 1, 2013.
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover/ 207 p
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-40572-0
  • Genre: American History 1875, true crime thriller
  • Lexile: 930

 

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